People who accept evolution sometimes use it as a tool to decide whether religion is true or not. People who accept the gospel sometimes also use it as a tool to decide whether evolution can be true or not. People who accept evolution sometimes also use it as a tool to interpret religion–religion, they argue, must offer evolutionary benefits, since it is so widespread. These are all examples of treating either the gospel or evolutionary biology as true and putting the other in the dock.
But what if you treat both as true?
We can understand the gospel in the light of evolution. What conception of God’s character and purposes is revealed by His dealings with the natural world?
Steve Peck touches on the question here.
In general Christianity the myth of the Fall is one where God set up everything to be nice and pleasant until Adam and Eve made a stupid, perverse decision and ruined it for all of us. But in Mormon Christianity the fall was *necessary* for mankind to progress and the myth of the fall is a tragedy of awful but inevitable choices and of having to suffer and be miserable to grow. In fact Mormonism makes these features of the myth of the Fall a universal story that each one of us lives. So I’d say the Mormon myth of the fall fits very well with the myth of evolution. So do other ideas that Mormons emphasize, like the need for opposition in all things.
But much more remains to be discovered. Descent and mortality and consequences and the experience of the flesh are central to both the evolutionary and the gospel story.
On the other hand, we can understand evolution in the light of the gospel. The evolutionary fitness of a creature must always be understood in light of its environment. But accepting Mormonism as true, the secular, scientific understanding of the environment is not complete. The evolution of non-kin altruism is difficult to explain as an adaptation to a purely secular landscape. But if altruism incurs on average some advantage in the form of temporal blessings from the Deity, its presence is no puzzle. Or if altruistic acts heighten the emotional well-being of the altruist by bringing him closer to God, then altruism is ‘fit.’ Notice how this speculation turns the traditional evolutionary account on its head. Traditional evolutionary science would have it that the emotional wellbeing that altruism brings is a result of altruism’s (unknown) evolutionary benefits. Emotional well-being tricks the mind into doing what is evolutionary fit. But if we see evolution as occurring in the presence of God, then well-being could itself be the evolutionary benefit. Alternatively, if altruism makes the altruist a better vessel for the Holy Ghost, the increased intelligence and wisdom that Spirit brings provides another possible evolutionary benefit.
We can rule out a straightforward connection between genes and being righteous and being blessed and having more surviving children. Otherwise we’d expect all the world to be holy. So genes must not compel righteousness, or individual righteousness must not straightforwardly lead to temporal blessings, or temporal blessings must not straightforwardly lead to evolutionary fitness, i.e., having more children. Modern Mormons do seem to generally have better temporal outcomes and also more children. Does that mean the connection between genes and righteousness must be extremely tenuous? Perhaps. If so, there is a gospel puzzle to be worked out. The gospel’s emphasis on descent and inheritance makes it hard to conceive that children would be blank slates with nothing bred into their blood from their parents. In turn, the gospel’s emphasis on mortality and the flesh makes it hard to conceive that if anything is bred into the blood, it doesn’t affect the spirit and the mind. Further inquiry is needed. One alternative solution is that modern Mormonism may not continue to be more ‘fit’ for long. Evolution takes some time to play out, so if an advantage is temporary its only evolutionary noise. As Mormons become more blatantly successful and apart from the mainstream of society, we may expect increased persecution as a feedback mechanism that would reduce Mormon fitness.